At his year end press conference, Obama said he wanted to take an active role in the future of his party. But, Obama is if anything, an ideologue and is blind to how his latest action has put his party in a deep hole to start off the era of Trump.
The Obama administration refused to condemn let alone veto a UN resolution aimed at condemning Israeli settlements in Palestine. In this case, again as on many others issues, he underscored how out of step his views are with the nation. Additionally, with his party.
The administration’s decision to let the anti-Israeli resolution was widely condemned by members of both parties. Not only did Donald Trump go on a twitter-fest attacking the move but so did the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Notably, key supporters of Obama’s Iran deal were either silent on the move (see Sherrod Brown-OH) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She called the administration’s abstention “reckless.”
Democrats are not trying to get on the bad side of public opinion heading into 2017. Support for Israel has largely held steady among the general public. A Pew Research survey in April 2016 found that a majority of Americans sympathize with Israel while only 19 percent said the same of the Palestinians. GOP support for Israel is almost universal but even Democrats favor the Jewish State 43 percent to 29 percent.
Unsurprisingly, the only group that did not favor Israel were liberal Democrats. Obama has repeatedly clashed with Israel over several issues in the last few years and he has dragged the left-wing of his party towards his positions. But, liberals are not yet a majority in his party and neither are the outgoing President’s views.
Cooler heads in the party seem to realize the problem Obama could create if Jewish donors and groups start to believe the party is anti-Israel. But, that is what Obama’s move threatens to do.
It is hardly a coincidence the President waited until after the election to slap Israel knowing it could have hurt Clinton. Even though many Jews will still back Democrats, the fragile alliance between them and the party could be splintered even more. Considering the 2018 Senate map looks horrible for Democrats, even a small-scale defection in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Florida could prove decisive in close contests. If Obama cared about his party he would not have dug them a deeper hole.
Consider that Democrats are defending 10 Senate seats Trump won in two years. Not only will Democrats be fighting to hold West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana (all states that backed Trump by double-digits) but also Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In Ohio, Sherrod Brown may be vulnerable against a Jewish Republican sure to try to hurt Brown in the Jewish suburbs of Cleveland. Brown, recognizing the danger, at least criticized the President for his move. Bill Nelson in Florida has historically had deep connections to the state’s Jewish bloc. Florida has the 4th largest share of Jewish voters. Nelson though, unlike Brown, has been silent on the resolution. Likewise, in Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Jr. backed the President on the Iranian deal and now this. Expect a Republican to make it an issue in two years. Even stronger incumbents in Michigan and Missouri will struggle to explain the President’s actions to their Jewish constituents.
Perhaps even worse, the party relies heavily on Jewish donors to fuel its campaigns. Clinton’s five biggest donors in the presidential election were Jewish, according to the Times of Israel. But, it is hard not to see some Jewish donors now reconsidering their spending after this last action by the President.
The party has historically been helped by having supporters of Israel, like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, lead the DNC. But now, the DNC might be led by Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim-American Congressman from Minnesota, who has attacked Israel in Congress and voiced anti-Semitic sentiments.
For Trump, supporting Israel after a polarizing election is an easy win and a bipartisan one at that. Trump will find it easy to woo Democrats to condemn the resolution and rally behind Israel. Obama’s raising an issue that had been dormant gives the unpopular Trump and Congressional Republicans a wedge issue they can run with and win a quick, political victory.
This fits a pattern of Obama taking positions on issues out of step with the public and pushing Democrats to do the same. On Obamacare, on Ebola, on transgender rights, the President has found himself ahead of the public and his party with disastrous results for everybody but him.
Obama might get some personal satisfaction from his actions. But, it also makes a fitting coda for the end of his Presidency and his attempts to push his party further left on losing issues.
Obama says he wants to help his party rebuild. You cannot do that when you are only winning fights that make you feel good about yourself ideologically. Indeed, you cannot help rebuild a party when you are busy continuing to burn it down.